In three months, when I come home after a long day of work, I will not have to say, “Why are there DISHES IN THIS SINK!?” The thought of this conjures up dueling emotions within me. My feelings about and reaction to dirty dishes in the sink (or anywhere for that matter) is closely akin to Joan Crawford’s feelings, as portrayed in Mommie Dearest, about wire hangers. I have made this disdain no secret for all of my life! Yet, my children sometimes find it challenging to honor my request to alleviate the pain that comes with this major pet peeve. So, I do a little happy dance when the thought of lowered blood pressure and no more flared nostrils comes across my mind. Alas, the feeling is fleeting. Within moments, a wave of melancholy washes over me, for as intense as my feelings are about unwashed dishes, my joy grows a thousand-fold when my children walk through the door. The idea that I will come home to a daily reminder of my children's absence saddens me far more than the potential for fewer (internal) explosions excites me.
In the fall, my last two chickadees will leave the nest. No gentle nudging or pushing required of them. They have spread their virtual wings and are poised to fly away come August. One to the great big city of Austin, less than 30 minutes away sans traffic. The other to the enormous concrete jungle and a footloose and fancy-free freshman year at the University of Texas at Dallas. I thought I had traversed the emotions that naturally appear when one’s youngest offspring is preparing to graduate. We saw this coming last year when Daughter Number Two decided to do a year of community college at home rather than traipsing all the way to Lubbock. The excitement of two staying at home for one more year, quickly gave way to double despair when we redid the math. Two would then be leaving in August 2015. The nest would be empty all at once. I curse the day. I guess I haven’t worked through my feelings because I get a little pit in my belly as I try to imagine a house with no children, without my children.
So there will be no dirty dishes in the sink, but there will also be no talkative, silly, bantering teenagers. No stories of what happened in class or goings-on from high school or community college for the day. No loud, opinionated discussions of current events and ideas. I will come home and my lovelies will not be here for me to ask “How was your day?”and to be inundated with the delightful minutia of class discussions, antics and observations from their respective schools. I will not be asked impossible questions such as “Do you know what the rational value of 39 would be if you squared it and multiplied by the exponential factor of 42 divided by pi?” (That’s what the youngest’s inquiries sound like to my old ears! She’s been a genius her whole life and we are just trying to live in her world). No nerd talk of obscure details related to world history, psychology, etymology. These are just a few of the regular topics covered as we wash dirty dishes and the like.
This dailyness of life for more than 26 years has made us what we are. My husband and I have never, ever been without kids. I brought one into the relationship. We are the best of friends and relish each other’s company, but we’ve parented a decade longer than we have not. The silence alone could do us in. Yes, we will have each other and our friends. We still have to work (probably until the kingdom comes to cover the cost of three children in college all at once). We will be busy, I’m sure. We even have a grandbaby on the way so surely, he’ll take up plenty of our time- even if it just talking about him and cooing at him on Face Time. It’s not a matter of what we’ll do with all the hours we will get back since we won’t have parent meetings, school and athletic events to regularly attend, appointments or quick shopping trips to buy needed items. It’s about transitioning into a brand-new chapter of our life. We saw it coming, but really there was no way to prepare our hearts for it fully. Sure, this year has been a transition in and of itself. Everyone drives themselves to where they need to go for the most part. We give out money left and right and the children make plans and go off with their people.
Daughter Number Two is rarely at home during the weekdays due to work, school and service. Number Three has been swamped with adding the finishing touches to an epic senior year. Nonetheless, they are here. Evidence of their presence abounds- like dirty dishes in the sink, backpacks and tennis shoes on their bedroom floors, the constant hum of the washer and dryer, the TV set to Netflix. When I come home, I look for them even when I know they aren’t here. The dishes make me crazy, yet by them I can tell a lot about the days my girls might be having. Even before I talk to them. I can tell when they woke up, if they left the house on time, how long they’ll be gone. From the trails they leave behind, I get an inkling as to their frame of mind at departure and the mood they will likely be in upon their return (a happy mood as long as I don’t go all Joan Crawford on them).
We aren’t the first and definitely not the last parents to watch their progeny go out to make a mark on the world. It’s not the first time we’ve had our own fledglings venture out into the wilderness. But there’s something about the last one, and in our case the last two. In a few short months, I will have to develop new instincts and skills to detect their moods, needs, health and wellness. We all will have to evolve into new ways of being and connecting with one another. We can learn. We will adapt. We will survive. And so will our little chickadees.